The woman at the center of Oregon’s first fraud investigation into a regulated marijuana business clearly knew about a fabricated letter that made bogus claims about her enterprise in an effort to lure investors, the state inquiry concluded.
The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services this week ordered Tisha Siler, CEO of a Northeast Portland pot dispensary called Cannacea, to pay $ 40,000 in fines for multiple violations of state securities law, including selling securities without a license.
The case against Siler is a “classic example of investment fraud in which an individual uses a new and potentially profitable industry as an enticement” to back an illegitimate company, agency spokesman Jake Sunderland said Friday.
He cautioned people to do their homework. “Check before you invest,” he said.
Siler has 20 days to appeal the order to an administrative law judge. She said via email that she plans to file a challenge. She denied preparing the fraudulent letter on Oregon Health Authority letterhead and said she didn’t “ask or direct anyone to do so. Period.”
Sunderland said an extensive Oregonian/OregonLive article about the state’s investigation helped bring the case to a close. The agency started looking into Siler and Cannacea last year.
“Leads generated by … (the) story helped us direct our investigation to a place where we were able to confirm that Siler created the documents,” he said.
Katy Young, an attorney for Green Rush Consulting, a California company that did work for Cannacea, said that after story published, her firm hired a company with forensic computer expertise to determine where the fake letter originated.
She said the expert determined that it came from an account associated with Cannacea and Siler. She said another email that included Siler’s feedback on investor material also came from a Cannacea account. Young said she forwarded the computer expert’s findings to Dorothy Bean, an attorney with the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
It was that analysis that led the state to link the letter to Siler, Sunderland said.
Siler told officials that Green Rush or one of the company’s associates created the letter “without her knowledge or permission.” (The company isn’t affiliated with the Portland-based Green Rush Advisory Group.)
“To the contrary, the … letter was created by Siler” or by someone else “at her direction,” said the state’s 11-page order, signed by Patrick Allen, director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
The state concluded that it was Siler who provided Green Rush with the bogus letter and that she had personally given the letter to one or more prospective investors.
In late 2014 and early 2015, four people invested a total of $ 225,000 in Cannacea, the state found. Siler earlier this year informed the state that Cannacea had temporarily closed; on Friday, state officials said the dispensary’s status hadn’t changed.
Siler also told state investigators that she didn’t review materials created for potential investors. The materials contained numerous false claims about Siler’s business. But the state investigation found she had, in fact, reviewed and made revisions at least once.
Among the fraudulent claims: that Oregon regulators personally invited Siler to open medical marijuana dispensaries; that regulators would pre-approve up to six dispensary licenses with limited red tape; and that Siler would be consulted by state regulators crafting rules for recreational marijuana.
In its order, the state noted that Siler failed to take action to remove multiple misrepresentations. It concluded that she was complicit in allowing bogus information to circulate among numerous potential investors.
Siler’s attorney, Frank Elsasser, said he and Siler were disappointed with the decision.
“The state’s order appears to be based upon only a small portion of the record submitted, relies upon evidence from unreliable sources, and makes no reference to any evidence submitted in support of Cannacea,” Elsasser said in a statement.
The state also issued a cease-and-desist order against Green Rush, which investigators said failed to independently verify the accuracy of the information in the fake health authority letter or the information included in the investor materials.
Green Rush is prohibited from engaging in any business activity related to securities in Oregon without permission from the Department of Consumer and Business Services. The company, however, can continue to offer its consulting services in Oregon.
The state imposed a $ 20,000 fine on the company but suspended $ 12,500, provided Green Rush complies with the state’s conditions.
Green Rush representatives said their involvement with Cannacea has damaged their company. They said they’ve taken steps to tighten their hiring practices and are committed to doing their own homework on clients early in the process.
“There is a lot of white collar crime out there and people trying to take advantage of people,” said Zeta Ceti, founder and CEO of Green Rush Consulting. “It’s very important for the industry as a whole that everyone needs to understand and do as much due diligence as possible.”
— Noelle Crombie
Green Rush Consent Order.pdf